The possibility of unilateral covert SRM geoengineering.

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Mick West

Jul 28, 2012, 6:27:43 PM7/28/12
to geoengineering
Is it possible that someone might be doing geoengineering, and we would not even know it?

In Alan Robock's paper Will Geoengineering [with SRM] Ever Be Used, posted to the list yesterday, he says rather dramatically:

"Even suggestions of temporary geoengineering to relieve the most dangerous aspects of global warming will be met with so many of the above issues that there will never be world agreement to implement. I can imagine worse scenarios, including global nuclear war started in response to unilateral geoengineering implementation."

But is it possible that a nation could avoid both the insurmountable obstacle of obtaining world agreement, and the possibility of severe sanctions over unilateral action, by doing it in a manner that could not be detected?

Given that the actual results of geoengineering would most likely be lost in the noise, is it actually technically possible to perform SRM geoengineering on a large scale in a manner that could not be detected? Or will all the possible schemes be impossible to hide, being either too visible in deployment, or leaving some tell-tale physical or chemical signature?

One could approach the question from two directions, firstly from the point of view of the rogue nation; if you were to devise a clandestine yet effective SRM scheme, then what would it consist of? Modifications to the nation's domestic jet fuel? A secret fleet of spray tankers operating from a remote base? Ballistic big guns in the wilderness? Atomic bombs in volcanoes?

Secondly, from the point of view of the world community, if you suspect such a thing might happen (or even already be happening) then how do you go about detecting it? Unaccounted radiative forcing changes? Changes in atmospheric sulphur loading? If we get a moratorium on SRM, then how do we "trust, but verify".

I think the question is important from a governance and global politics point of view, but it's also interesting as a surprisingly large and vocal number of people actually believe that covert geoengineering is currently being carried out by governments.  See: Public understanding of solar radiation management, A M Mercer, D W Keith, and J D Sharp:

3.4. Conspiracy theories

One of the voices emerging in the SRM debate is that of ‘chemtrails’ believers. This small group believes that organizations, such as governments, are already distributing chemicals in the atmosphere for a variety of purposes, ranging from culling the population to mind control. We found that 2.6% of the subjects believe that it is completely true that the government has a secret program that uses airplanes to put harmful chemicals into the air, and 14% of the sample believes that this is partly true.

The most common purpose ascribed to the supposed spraying is actually covert geoengineering. A better understanding of what covert geoengineering would entail, and how it might be detected, would allow a more rigorous debunking of the various conspiracy theories. 

Mick West

Andrew Lockley

Aug 7, 2012, 7:09:34 PM8/7/12
to, geoengineering

I personally feel that the term 'geoengineering' lacks clear meaning
in a world which is already so heavily altered by the human race.

Consider forestry, for example. There is still a net loss of
Amazonian rainforest, and also loss of more minor forests, e.g. in
Madagascar. We could consider new plantation afforestation, or we
could instead regard them as a reduction in net losses.

Likewise, with SO2 injections, we could regard early stages of 'SRM'
as merely an offset to the reductions in sulfur pollution which has
come about as a result of stack scrubbers, and controls on S-content
of heavy hydrocarbon fuels. (See climate cost-ben analysis here These
sulfur emissions are themselves a form of geoengineering, as the
'climate cost' of sulfur controls has been considered in the link
given, and likely in many other cost-ben analysis of pollution
controls. I argue that we geoengineer just as surely when we DON'T
act (i.e. don't control pollution), as when we DO act (i.e. release

I'm personally not interested in re-opening the debate about
nomenclature (we should stick with the words we have) but when using
terms like geoengineering, we have to at least bear in mind that the
interventions aren't made on a tabula rasa.

I see the discipline more as a 'tidying up' exercise - reducing damage
we've caused by adjusting anthropogenic inputs to the Earth System.
It doesn't matter to me, as an engineer, whether I'm putting more oil
in my car, or letting a little air out of the tyres. Both are
engineering interventions. We should stop being so purist about the
terms and accept that any change, where the indirect climate
implications are considered, is a form of geoengineering.

Hope that's useful


On 7 August 2012 20:12, Michael Hayes <> wrote:
> Hello Mike et al.,
> This is a question which begs the fundimental question of; What exactly is
> GE?
> It is clear from an overwhelming number of studies that current energy
> policies and FF usage is changing our climate. The legal concept of
> 'Reasonable Knowability' is well established and should be applied to this
> issue. Thus, the climate is currently being changed with a high level of
> reasonable knowability that we are responsable.
> That seems to me to be what GE is! If we has reasonable knowability of the
> outcome of our actions, intentional/un-intentional is not relevent to the
> aurgument.
> Your question ends with "and we would not even know it?". I believe we
> simply wish not to know it.
> Michael
> --
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